Why Texas law will protect 'charlatan' Alex Jones from real accountability: tech lawyer
Critics of far-right conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones were delighted by two early August decisions from a jury in Austin, Texas. First, the jury awarded $4.1 million in compensatory damages to the parents of one of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims; then, on Friday, August 5, that same jury ordered Jones to pay $45.2 in punitive damages. And that was only one of the Sandy Hook-related civil lawsuits that Jones has faced.
Jones’ critics were delighted by the decisions, and some of those critics predicted that they would lead to total bankruptcy for Infowars and put Jones out of business. But tech lawyer Greg Doucette, in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on August 11, laments that “charlatan” Jones is unlikely to pay all of that money. And Doucette, himself a scathing critic of Jones, argues that Texas law is likely to shield the Infowars host from true “accountability.”
The lawsuits came about because of Jones’ response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, when gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people — including 20 children — before killing himself. On his show, Jones relentlessly promoted the nonsense conspiracy that the massacre was a government false flag operation designed to attack the 2nd Amendment rights of gun owners. Jones and other conspiracy theorists accused the families of the Sandy Hook victims of being liars who made the whole thing up, and some of those grieving family members suffered death threats and harassment from Jones’ followers.
Doucette explains, “The trial on damages ended last week, with a jury finding Jones should pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to two parents, followed by a separate award of punitive damages, called ‘exemplary’ damages in Texas, in the amount of $45.2 million. Maybe this sounds low to you, based on what a pile of human garbage Jones is. But the truth is actually worse. Jones will never pay that $45.2 million. Because of tort reform caps, those punitive damages are going (to) get pared back to a meager $750,000.”
The tech attorney goes on to describe, in detail, how civil law works in Texas, where Jones is based. According to Doucette, Texas has an “exemplary damages cap formula” — and when it is applied to Jones, Doucette predicts, he will be able to avoid paying the full $45.2 million in punitive damages that the Austin jury decided he should pay.
“There are some limited exceptions to the exemplary damages cap, colloquially called ‘cap busters,’” Doucette observes. “These are found in Sections 41.008(c) and (f) — but unfortunately, only relate to damages from criminally felonious conduct such as murder, injuring children or the elderly, or cooking meth. Now, at this point, you might be wondering, ‘Why would the jury issue a verdict so large if they knew it was going to be reduced?’ The answer is: The jury does not know about the damages cap until after the trial, because the statute forbids telling them…. The end result will be a dramatic markdown from the jury’s verdicts last week, and a sharp disappointment for those hoping that the proceedings would ‘send a message’ to Jones and people like him.”
Moreover, Doucette adds, Jones is “likely to raise more money off the verdicts against him than he’ll pay out to victims.”
“Accountability rarely happens in a courthouse,” Doucette laments. “The only real way to hold Jones accountable is to convince his listeners or his advertisers (or both) that he’s a charlatan who doesn’t deserve their money. But first, we have to acknowledge the reality that Jones is exactly what many Americans want.”
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